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Nov. 18, 2021, 2:54 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   November 18, 2021

The Washington Post’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, became the first woman to lead the venerable newsroom when she was hired in May.

In a new episode of “Sway,” her New York Times podcast, host Kara Swisher interviewed Buzbee about her future plans for the Post, her job interview with Post owner (and richest man on Earth but also space) Jeff Bezos, and how the news organization is thinking about missteps like the newsroom’s handling of reporter Felicia Sonmez and issuing corrections to its coverage of the Steele dossier.

The Post’s newsroom has grown to 1,000 people — up from 580 in 2013 — thanks in no small part to its billionaire owner. Still, Buzbee said holding powerful people and institutions accountable is the Post’s most essential duty — and that includes Amazon and any other venture Bezos may be involved in. So how does Bezos see his role at the Post?

“I mean, I think the easiest way to answer that is that I don’t have day-to-day contact. I mean, my boss is the publisher and definitely have day-to-day contact with him, but not really having day-to-day contact with the owner.”

After reminding Buzbee of something she’d said when she was at the Associated Press — “We have made a decision we don’t want to turn people off by using so much emotion that they won’t look at the veracity of the factual information” — Swisher followed up with a more general question: “Has news become too infused with emotion?”

“I don’t know that it’s too infused with emotion because I do think that human emotion is a critically important part of journalism. I want to make sure, though, that what we’re doing is fairly reflecting a lot of different perspectives in our journalism. I do think that we don’t want to — I don’t want to be snarky in our journalism. I don’t want people to think this is just a bunch of people who have this opinion or this viewpoint all talking to each other. I do want to make sure that our journalism is accessible to people. And by that, I don’t just mean told in a certain way. I mean that people feel that the facts are front and center in what we present to them.”

Here’s Buzbee on … not wanting racists to read The Washington Post but also wanting the widest possible audience?

“Well, I think our goal is to not turn off — I mean, I don’t want to give up on any reader. I mean, certainly, there are people who are not going to trust The Washington Post but I don’t think we want to give up on big swaths of the world. I mean, we’re certainly not trying to — I’m not interested in people who are racist reading The Washington Post. But I also, I don’t think we want to give up on — if we do good journalism, I want that journalism to get the widest audience it can.”

Earlier this month, The Washington Post took the unusual step of removing large portions of two articles about the so-called Steele dossier. The Post also added an editor’s note, changed a headline, and removed a video from its coverage. Buzbee ran through what led up to the changes — in short, a source said new information gave them doubts about what they’d told the Post in 2017 — and said they could no longer stand by the information in the story.

Buzbee: “We tried to be as transparent as possible, to explain in the editor’s notes what we were doing and why we were doing it. But I think we felt that as journalists, if there is new information that changes something that we said in the past and that makes it no longer true, we have to deal with that … Based on what I know at the time when the dossier came out, the Post was very skeptical and extremely sort of probing and cautious in dealing with that material. The Post never published the entire contents of the dossier or anything like that, OK?”

Swisher: “I got it. You’re not BuzzFeed. You didn’t BuzzFeed it.”

Buzbee on transparency from the legacy newsroom:

“I think that the people who read our journalism want us to sort of tell them what our standards are and to kind of explain how we do our journalism. I sense a lot of hunger for that.”

The Post has seen a number of high-profile clashes between reporters and newsroom leadership over social media posts in recent years. Swisher asked Buzbee, “What is your line for what’s appropriate for reporters?”

“The way I think about this is that it’s obviously normal for reporters to want to bring sort of their whole selves, who they are, their identity, to the reporting that they do. That’s completely natural. Each of us is the people we are, as we do our jobs. And I also want to bring that into their reporting. Someone who’s different from me might think of a different story idea than I think of. And every person is going to bring their perspective. And that’s going to enrich our journalism. And then we have to balance that against doing things that can cause people to think that we, as an institution, are biased in certain ways or that we have opinions as an institution. And that means that in some ways, that harms their willingness to talk to us for stories …

I think what we are trying to do is ensure that we’re not giving people signals that we’re biased against — that we don’t have political opinions, that we’re not coming down and that they can’t trust our journalism because of x, y, or z. That’s the balance that I would try to find.”

On how she’s thinking about the Post’s relationship with tech companies, starting with Twitter, which just announced a subscription service that allows readers to see ad-free articles on more than 300 news sites, including the Post.

“We have conversations about what makes sense for us in terms of mission and what makes sense for us in terms of, is this benefiting our desire to get audience? I mean, we’re a subscription-based news organization, right? I mean, we want people to care enough about us to pay to get our journalism, right? And that’s a mission I’m really comfortable with. I mean, good information takes really smart journalists to get. And it needs to have an economic model behind it. So when we deal with the tech companies, we look at each of these individually. Is this something we should try? Is this something we should consider? Or does it not make sense for us?”

You can listen to the episode or read the full transcript here.

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